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A Year of Billionaire Pandemic Gains: Reimagining Hank & Doug Meijer’s Wealth

March 31, 2021

Last week, the Institute for Policy Studies published a new report entitled, A Year of Billionaire Pandemic Gains.

The report is full of data and numbers on how much money the billionaire class has profited over the past year, a year that saw over a million die from COVID and millions struggle under the economic, social and health conditions created because of the pandemic.

More importantly, as this new report demonstrates, the pandemic exposed the ugliness, the utter cruelty of the economic system of Capitalism. How is it, that so few could profit so much during the pandemic? But here is the thing, Capitalism will continue to benefit the super rich, even after the pandemic, because that is the nature of Capitalism, particularly in this Neoliberal age of Capitalism.

Here are highlights from the last 12 months of billionaire wealth growth:

  • The combined wealth of the nation’s 657 billionaires increased more than $1.3 trillion, or 44.6%, since the pandemic lockdowns began. [Master Table] Over those same 12 months, more than 29 million Americans contracted the virus and more than 535,000 died from it. As billionaire wealth soared over, almost 80 million lost work between March 21, 2020, and 20, 2021, and 18 million were collecting unemployment on Feb. 27, 2021.
  • There are 43 newly minted billionaires since the beginning of the pandemic, when there were 614. A number of new billionaires joined the list after initial public offerings (IPOs) of stock in companies such as Airbnb, DoorDash, and Snowflake.
  • The increase in the combined wealth of the 15 billionaires with the greatest growth in absolute wealth was $563 billion or 82%. [Table 1] The wealth growth of just these 15 represents over 40% of the wealth growth among all billionaires. Topping the list are Elon Musk ($137.5 billion richer, 559%), Jeff Bezos ($65 billion, 58%) and Mark Zuckerberg ($47 billion, 86%).

According to the data provided in this new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, there are 7 Billionaires living in Michigan. The billionaire in Michigan who profited the most during the pandemic so far is Dan Gilbert. Gilbert is the owner of Quicken Loans, which capitalized on cloistered citizens tapping online financing, plus Gilbert is a major player in the massive gentrification of Detroit. His wealth during the pandemic grew from $6.5 Billion to $41.7 Billion, which was a 642% increase.

We have a few of those 7 Michigan Billionaires right here in West Michigan. The DeVos family is collectively worth billions, but because of the way they hide their wealth it is hard to determine what their total collective wealth is, especially since Richard & Helen DeVos are now deceased. 

However, we do know how much the Meijer family is worth. According to the data from the Institute for Policy Studies, Hank & Doug Meijer’s wealth went from $10.2 Billion at the beginning of the pandemic to $12.6 Billion today. This means that Hank & Doug Meijer’s wealth increased by 23.5% in just one year. 

Now, starting pay for a grocery store clerk is $10 an hour at Meijer and these workers have been considered front line and essential workers in the past 12 months. Do you think that the lives of Hank and Doug Meijer would have been negatively impacted at all if they paid these workers $20 an hour as a starting wage? If a Meijer essential worker was making $20 an hour at 40 hours a week, they would make $45,000 a year. So, if we took the $2.4 billion that the Meijer brothers made during the pandemic and divided it by  $45,000, we would get 53,333. This means that Hank & Doug Meijer could have employed 53,333 store workers at $20 an hour/40 hours a week.

Of course, Meijer does not even have 53,333 store employees, so let’s double the salary once again to $40 an hour. This would mean that a Meijer store clerk, which we have been calling an essential worker for the past 12 months, would make $90,000 a year. With the $2.4 billion that Hank & Doug Meijer made during the pandemic, they could pay 26,666 employees earning $40 an hour for 40 hours a week. Again, I doubt that Meijer employees that many store workers, but you get the point. The wealth of people like Hank & Doug Meijer, which has increased by $2.4 Billion during the pandemic, is always about exploitation and it is always about policy. Let’s organize and demand more!

Operation Safe Neighborhoods? The GRPD, Community Policing and the Suppression of Dissent

March 31, 2021

Last weekend, the Grand Rapids Police Department began what they referred to as Operation Safe Neighborhood. This operation involved deploying a “new” community policing program, which also included the use of helicopters.

Like many people, my Facebook newsfeed blew up over the weekend with people complaining about the helicopters flying over the neighborhood, with the general sentiment being that it did not make people feel safe.

In a statement released by the GRPD it states:

Despite the evening’s achievements, Chief Payne appreciates that the operation, including the use of aerial resources, can cause disruption in the community.  “No one wants to be sitting in their living room listening to a helicopter flying overhead, including me,” the Chief said.  “But I have to weigh what’s happening on our streets with how people may feel. We conducted door to door engagement during the week leading up to this operation, and the residents made it clear that they were glad we were there.” Last night represents another successful implementation of the GRPD strategic plan. “By engaging with the community ahead of time, deploying a diverse team of resources, and using data driven tactics, we made a significant impact on violent crime in the city while partnering with our stakeholders”, the Chief said.

Two things stand out for me in this statement. First, despite his rhetoric, Chief Payne doesn’t care about how people feel, because he has to focus on what is happening in the streets. I take this to mean that Chief Payne is going to do whatever he wants, no matter what the public thinks. The police know what’s best, so if you don’t like what they are doing, then too bad. In recent years this has been the experience of many community organizers that I have spoken with, all of which feel that the GRPD does whatever it wants to do.

Second, Chief Payne suggests that their actions over the weekend were a success, because they made some arrests, etc. However, did Operation Safe Neighborhoods make people feel safer? It may be impossible to know for sure, since we don’t really hear from the public or the so-called “stakeholders” that Chief Payne mentions in his statement. 

The local news media did primarily what they always do, which is to rely exclusively on the GRPD’s perspective. In the case of MLive, WZZM 13 and WXMI 17, all they did was to regurgitate what the GRPD said in their statement. The only exception was the channel 8 story, which still featured a GRPD perspective, but it was the only news outlet to actually talk to someone from the community. A local restaurant owner had this to say:

“The shooters, the violators are not being invited to the table,” Libbett said. “They’re not having a conversation with the powers that be or the police.”

Libbett recognizes it’s not an easy task to get both sides to meet.

“If something happens in the streets and there’s a lot of people around and they say, ‘Why don’t they say something?’ Because it’s a code they live by,” Libbett said. “If you got a policeman that’s harassing someone in the community, no other police come forward and say, ‘Hey, stop doing that’ or go to his sergeant and say he used excessive force. When the community sees this is how they are treated, they get defensive, they don’t want to have a conversation.”

Mr. Libbett’s comments are instructive, since he points out what so many people have been saying in recent years, particularly in the Black community, that they do not trust the GRPD and do not want to talk with them, because of how the police treats the community, often using excessive force

However, the very next day, WOOD TV 8 ran a follow up story about Operation Safe Neighborhoods, in a different neighborhood, speaking with white residents, who said they were “happy with increased GRPD patrols.” It’s almost as if the GRPD leaned on WOOD TV8 after they had a Black man speak the truth about how policing is perceived in his community.

So, despite the use of helicopters and the arrests that were made, how does the community feel about the GRPD? We can never know completely and we certainly are not going to get honest and complete community feedback from the use of tools like FlashVote. We can make some determinations about how the community feels about the GRPD, based on what has happened in recent years.

Here is a list of numerous incidents that communicate that there are plenty of people, particularly in the Black and Brown communities that are highly critical of the GRPD:

“It was a peaceful event”: How media framed Saturday’s event and virtually eliminated any analysis of state violence that targets the Black community

The GRPD, White Supremacy and Community Accountability

Calls for a State of Emergency in Grand Rapids elicits no meaningful response from City Officials

Billed as Community-Police relations “listening tour,” the meeting was a highly managed forum

Chief Rahinsky gets nauseated, but defends police violence against the black community in Grand Rapids

GRPD’s recent detaining of black youth was just following procedure and it was racist

Latino youth stopped at gunpoint by the GRPD because they were walking in the street in the southwest part of Grand Rapids

Latest GRPD Press Conference addresses recent police assaults on residents of color: Acting Chief says if people obeyed the police there would be no problems

Coalition of groups hold Press Conference to issue demands in light of increased GRPD and ICE violence

Grand Rapids shares stories of harassment, intimidation and racists encounters with the GRPD: Michigan Civil Rights Department hearing on GRPD police abuse

All of these links are between 2016 and 2019, but we know what has happened in 2020 and beyond in terms of the community’s call to defund the GRPD and how the City has responded.

Lastly, it is worth noting that during Operation Safe Neighborhoods, the GRPD arrested several organizers with Justice for Black Lives in downtown Grand Rapids on Saturday. The arrest charges were bogus and demonstrated once against that community members who publicly challenge the authority of the GRPD will be met with repression.

West Michigan Foundation Watch: The Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation – financing the far right

March 29, 2021

This will be our first installment of Foundation Watch for 2021, since West Michigan Foundations are beginning to submit their 2019 990 documents. The 990 documents are legally required to provide some transparency for foundation contributions, but it also provides us with a window into how the area’s largest foundations are spending their money to support far right causes that serve both an ideological and political function.

For those who don’t already know, Edgar and Elsa Prince are the parents of private mercenary profiteer Erik Prince and former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Edgar Prince made his wealth in manufacturing and he and Elsa had been funding the far right for decades. We follow these families and their foundations because we believe it is important for people in West Michigan to know how much the far right is financially supported in West Michigan. 

The Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation 2019 990 documents can be found at GuideStar.org. According to Guide Star, the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation has a little over $11 million in assets. This Foundation is governed by Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, Erik Prince, Emilie Wierda, Eileen Ellens, Alan Hoekstra and Renselaer Broekhuizen. 

What follows are some of the recipients of funding from the Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation, the amount they received in 2019 and a brief description of what they do/represent, which we consider to be part of the far right, both the religious right and the political right.

Haggai Institute – $600,000 – The Haggai Institute is a Christian evangelical entity that provides leadership training for people around the world to convert people. The Haggai Institute that only Jesus can bring joy to the world, not governments, education or any other spiritual tradition.

Family Research Council – $25,000 – The Family Research Council is a DC-based entity that was created in 1980 and has played an influential role with numerous administrations, beginning with the Reagan Administration. The Family Research Council advocates a theocracy, which means that religion should be the true ruling power.

Prison Fellowship Ministries – $95,000 – The Prison Fellowship Ministries was founded by former Nixon Administration staff Charles Colson, who was sentenced to jail for his role in the Watergate scandal. The Prison Fellowship Ministries practices far right Christianity and is part of the State Policy Network, which connects far right groups across the country to promote policy changes at the state level, changes which further the far right agenda.

Acton Institute – $30,000 – The Acton Institute is a far right think tank based in Grand Rapids that was founded in 1990 to promote the relationship between Christianity and Capitalism. Elsa Prince has been a former Board member with the Acton Institute.

Freedom Alliance – $30,000 – Freedom Alliance is an entity that was founded by convicted Iran Contra scandal participant Col. Oliver North. The Freedom Alliance promotes US militarism and encourages people to join the US military.

Media Research Center – $25,000 – The Media Research Center is a far right media watchdog, which seeks to counter the leftist press in the United States.

Council for National Policy – $15,000 – The Council for National Policy (CNP) was founded in 1981, with board membership and funding from the Coors, Koch and DeVos families. The CNP is the subject of Anne Nelson’s book, Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right, and has played a critical role in the anti-lockdown protests across the US since the COVID 19 pandemic began.

Right to Life Michigan – $25,000 – Right to Life Michigan believes that women do not have the right to chose what happens to their bodies, plus they spend money lobbying State Legislators and endorsing far right candidates.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy – $10,000 – The Mackinac Center is a far right think tank based in Midland, Michigan, which has a long history of promoting far right stat policy. The Mackinac Center was instrumental in getting the Right to Work policy adopted in Michigan during the Synder administration and they have been active in the past year opposing COVID 19 policies in the state.

Alliance Defending Freedom – $100,000 – The Alliance for Defending Freedom is a Conservative Christian group of lawyers that defends religious groups around anti-LGBT policies and other religious right issues.

With this list you can see how the Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation has contributed to the irrational, fanatical and harmful positions that both politicians take, along with what the general population supports. It is with this kind of financial support that fuels the hate towards the queer & trans community, towards immigrants, the Black community, anyone who does not embrace a fundamentalist version of Christianity and those who support feminist principles. If we are to build social movements that are calling for collective liberation, then we need to be aware of the power and influence that the Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation have. To ignore them or dismiss them would be a strategic mistake.

A new round of pro-GRPD billboards are up: Help us demand transparency for who is paying for these pro-cop messages

March 28, 2021

Since last December, there have been several different billboard campaigns that have been seen all over the Grand Rapids area. Some of these billboards have been purchased by the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association (GRPOA), as we noted in late December.

Around the same time, there are appeared several billboards that read Oppose Defunding Police, with a tag line at the bottom that read Brothers in Blue GR. I called OutFront Media in early January, asking for information on who was paying for the Oppose Defunding the Police billboards. I got put on hold for a while, then was connected to the General Manager of OutFront Media in Grand Rapids. (OutFront Media is a huge national entity.

I spoke with Brad to inquire as to who or what group was funding the Oppose Defunding Police billboards. Brad told me he would have to contact the sales person who got that particular contract. After a few days, I followed up with Brad to find out if he had information I was looking for. He said that he hadn’t got that information and would have to get back to me. 

Well, he never got back to me and now there is a new series of billboards using OutFront Media space, like the one you can see here below.

This new billboard also says Oppose Defunding Police and has the tag line Brothersinbluegr. However, in this new ad campaign they are using the image of Daniel Duyst, who died in 1994, with the message, LAID DOWN HIS LIFE FOR ANOTHER. 

According to the pro-cop website Officer Down Memorial Page, Daniel Duyst did not die while on duty, he died when he jumped out of his boat to try to save someone in the water, but both Duyst and the person he tried to save died from electrocution. While we can acknowledge that Mr. Duyst was acting in a noble manner, trying to save someone in Lake Michigan, it had nothing to do with him being part of the GRPD. Lots of people do courageous things all around the world everyday to prevent harm and it has nothing to do with their profession. People work to prevent harm because of their humanity.

Now, we still don’t know who is paying for these billboards that are presenting misinformation. Confronting this misinformation is important, especially since the GRPD has assaulted members of the Black and immigrant communities in recent years, all of which have been documented, plus we are now seeing the GRPD targeting and arresting Black and Brown organizers with Justice for Black Lives. 

Therefore, we have a right to know, the community has a right to know, who is financing these pro-GRPD billboards throughout the city. We are asking that everyone who reads this post to call OutFront Media and ask to talk to General Manager Brad Eldridge, and demand that he make public the person, persons or group that is paying for these pro-police billboards. 

Call Brad Eldridge 

General Manager 

OutFront Media

616 – 452 – 3171

Demand Transparency!

Increased rent costs in Grand Rapids, bad media advice and the power of Tenant Unions

March 26, 2021

The increase in rent in Grand Rapids is nothing new. People have been feeling the high cost of rent for several years now, often resulting in people leaving Grand Rapids and going to surrounding communities like Wyoming and Kentwood.

On Wednesday, WOOD TV 8 ran a story about the high cost of rent, a story with the headline, “W. MI community members concerned about high rent prices.

The channel 8 story isn’t very in-depth, but it does offer a poll taken by a WOOD TV 8 reporter, who asked the question, “Has your rent personally gone up?” The informal poll showed that 55.3% of respondents said that rent had gone up for them by more than $100.

The article has one former renter, who left the area because of high rent costs. However, the only other people cited in the story are an investment specialist for NAI Wisinski and who rents out properties in Grand Rapids. Both of the comments from those who benefit from high rent costs DO NOT address the concerns about the high cost of rent, they divert attention to the old argument of market demand. 

The fact is, that in recent years, landlords and property management companies have jacked up the price of rental units because Grand Rapids has become more of a destination for those in the professional class, who can afford the increased costs. However, for those who have been living and renting in this community for the past several decades, the increased cost of rent has forced them out of the city. 

In 2015, there was a study done by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which stated that to, “afford an average two-bedroom apartment in Michigan, you would need to make $15.16 an hour.” This was in 2015, so just imagine how much more you would need to earn to afford rent in Grand Rapids right now. Here is some very sobering data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition for Michigan that is from this year. 

To make matters worse, the local radio station WFGR took some of the content from the channel 8 story and made it even more ridiculous. The WFGR headline reads, How To Get Your High Rent Price In West Michigan Lowered.

In this awful article, they provide advice on how to get your rent lowered, which is:

  • ask for lower rent
  • have comparables ready
  • offer a longer lease for lower rent
  • ask about amenities
  • ask for pet increases and parking/garage costs to be removed
  • help landlords fill vacancies for a discount or credit
  • sell yourself as a model tenant
  • be nice!

Their advice is to allow the landlord, the property management company and the “market” to dictate the narrative around rental costs. The thing is, there is another way to get rent costs lowered, which is to join a tenant union. All across the country, tenant unions have been winning rent reductions, rent freezes and rent control. When tenants are organized, they can have a say in rental costs, rental conditions and rental contracts.

If you live in Kent County, you can contact that Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union, either through their Facebook page, or their e-mail gratunion@gmail.com, if you are interested in being part of the tenant union and fighting for housing justice!

The GRPD continues to create their own narrative, while the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association blocks even the mildest of reforms

March 24, 2021

On Tuesday, the Grand Rapids Police Department presented another update to their 2020 Strategic Plan. We have been critiquing this strategic plan since it was first drafted last August and more recently in late February.

The updated report on the GRPD Strategic Plan was presented on Tuesday during the Public Safety meeting at 3pm. The Public Safety Committee is currently made up of several Grand Rapids City Commissioners and only one resident, Ed Kettle. Kettle, as we have reported in the past, is an apologist for the GRPD and created the Facebook group Friends of the GRPD, which has not been active for the past 18 months.

The GRPD Strategic Plan update presentation on Tuesday, also came with a powerpoint, which you can find here.

This presentation began with a couple of slides that wanted to make the point that the GRPD is understaffed, a point that was accentuated by a graph on page 3 of the powerpoint. Beginning on page 4, the presentation shifts to focus on how the GRPD has been making personnel adjustments based on the findings of the Hillard-Heintze study that was done in 2019. What is instructive about what the GRPD presents here is the fact that they omitted one of the major findings from the study which made clear that most calls to the GRPD are non-emergency calls and could be responded to by non-police. Here is the larger quote from the Hillard-Heintze study about the non-emergency calls, which we reported on in 2019.

most calls are not for emergency police services, such as immediate physical danger, but rather are service oriented. Seventy percent of calls for service in 2018 were categorized as “low priority.” For example, the most common calls for service included 4,982 for property damage-only traffic crashes and 4,050 calls for burglar alarms, most of which are false. On average, officers spend almost an hour on scene resolving calls for service, so a significant amount of patrol time is spent addressing non-emergency calls. This evolving demand for a variety of services from law enforcement is a trend that we see nationally, and many communities continue to struggle with identifying what, when and how they want police services delivered. This is of concern for many municipalities as police budgets are often the largest component of municipal expenditures.”

The GRPD presentation on Tuesday, acknowledges the need to shift non-emergency calls to what they refer to as “non-sworn employees.” (Page 6) However, nowhere does the GRPD acknowledge that they could cut police staff significantly, since most calls are non-emergency.

Page 7 of the presentation then talks about the shift from Community Based Policing to Neighborhood Based Policing. However, the GRPD never defines what they mean by either Community or Neighborhood based policing, along with the fact that they do not differentiate the two. Here is what the City of Grand Rapids says about the shift from Community to Neighborhood based policing:

The move to this new policing philosophy was first identified by the department as a way to provide both traditional and community policing services with available resources. Through many listening sessions the City also heard that residents expressed a desire to see “their” community service officer more often and engaged in more non-enforcement, positive contacts. This new neighborhood policing model could also allow an assigned officer to more closely adapt and serve the unique needs and wants of each neighborhood.

Regardless of what model the GRPD says it is using, we have to come to terms with the historical and contemporary function of policing, which we wrote about last July in an article entitled, Coming to terms with the function of policing in the US and in Grand Rapids, Part I and Part II. In both of these article we identify that the primary function of policing is intelligence gathering, population management and counterinsurgency, which often means to repress those who believe that the state has failed them.

Pages 8 – 10 of the GRPD’s Strategic Plan update was centered around his best to utilize cops without reducing their numbers, along with some fluffy language around “responding to the needs of the community.”

On pages 11 and 12, we read that the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association (GRPOA) filed a grievance against the City to make sure that the City could not shift current police functions to non-cops, as you can see in the slide here below.

So, you can see that the GRPD union is resistant to even the mild reformist elements of the GRPD Strategic Plan, which came about as a direct result of the national uprising against policing after a cop publicly lynched George Floyd and after the May 30th uprising in Grand Rapids. The GRPD union has demonstrated over and over again that they will not tolerate any form of community accountability, which we have documented in recent years:

The final page of the presentation is devoted to community feedback, with an emphasis on the use of the taxpayer funded Flashvote survey, which recently centered on the GRPD. The FlashVote survey about the GRPD is a waste of public funds. The number of participants in the City was 579, with a mix of responses. However, the questions asked were weak, vague and did not frame issues around how policing is done in this city and which communities are disproportionately harmed. Last summer there were over 3,000 communications with the City of GR to Defund the GRPD, 5 times the amount that this survey received, yet the City Manager and the City Attorney prevented the City Commission from voting on defunding. This FlashVote only re-enforces the fact that the City will not fundamentally do anything to reduced the GRPD’s budget, because City officials overwhelmingly support the function of the GRPD, which is to protect White Supremacy and the Capitalist Class interests in this community! 

The arrest of Holland Restaurant owner provides a platform for far right ideas, which is then amplified by local news coverage

March 23, 2021

Over the past several days, the local news media has been reporting on the restaurant owner in Holland he went to jail for violation of COVID 19 polices.

The print and broadcast news media has been reporting on this non-stop, but more importantly is how they are framing the issue. In fact, there are several ways the West Michigan media has been framing this story. First, they are referring to the restaurant owner (Marlena) as someone who fled “communist Poland to migrate to the US.” Other stories keep using the term freedom to describe Marlena and those who support her.

How the local news media has been reporting on this story is very instructive, both for the kind of messaging the local news media is providing, as well as what they are not reporting. One example of the coverage, was a story that MLive ran on March 20th, a story that has been updated several times. This article is indicative of how the local news media has framed this issue, but more importantly, it demonstrates the poor quality of journalism that gets practiced in West Michigan.

The MLive story from March 20th was fairly long, as mLive stories go. In addition to the article, there were numerous pictures and two videos included, one that was just under 3 minutes in length, while the other was just over 23 minutes. However, let’s start with the written piece and then move on the deconstructing the videos.

While the MLive article does provide some context on why the Holland restaurant owner was jailed, stating:

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development determined Marlena’s Bistro posed an “imminent threat to public health” because the restaurant remained open during a statewide shutdown on indoor dining and did not enforce mandates for face coverings or social distancing. Pavlos-Hackney’s license was suspended in January, but she remained open and declined to follow state safety mandates.

However, this information doesn’t come until paragraph 12 and even then it is sandwich in between comments from Republican Party operatives, candidates and other far right sources.

Those sourced in the MLive article from March 20th are: Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddock, Wyoming resident Julie Nelson, Make Michigan Great Again founder Mark Gurley, State Rep. Matt Maddock, Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, Stand Up Michigan organizer Garrett Soldano, Jon Rocha, who organized the GoFundMe for Pavlos-Hickney, American Patriot Council founder Ryan Kelley.

In the short video, we hear from Make Michigan Great Again founder Mark Gurley, Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddock, and Stand Up Michigan organizer Garrett Soldano. 

What is Wrong with this kind of journalism?

  • Whether or not it was intentional, stories like the March 20 MLive piece provides an unquestioning platform for far right ideas, ideas that at a minimum threaten public health.
  • None of the comments from those cited in the MLive article are verified, thus they end up being presented as fact. 
  • There is no information about or analysis on the issue of stay at home orders, PPP and other country models that pay people directly to stay home during the pandemic. The irony here is that at the federal level and in the State of Michigan, the primary push for re-opening the state, the decision to give businesses money instead of residents, all come from the Republican Party or Republican supporters, the same ones that have been most vocal about the Holland restaurant owner going to jail for public health violations.
  • There is also no context for those who spoke. For instance, we don’t know who Make Michigan Great Again founder Mark Gurley and what he believes. If you read his website, it state, “Our purpose is to help influence Michigan communities and culture with a biblical worldview.”
  • Then there is Stand Up Michigan, which talks about freedom a great deal, but the three team members – Tammy Clark, Ron Armstrong and Pastor Jason Georges – are all about promoting a far right brand of Christianity. 
  • In the longer video from the MLive article on March 20, we hear from Austin Chenge, who is running for Governor in Michigan as a Republican. Check out his platform, which includes “our God given American values, including Bible classes are taught in our schools.” 
  • Maybe the biggest omission had to do with Ryan Kelley, who is also running for Gov. of Michigan. MLive doesn’t tell us he is a co-founder of the American Patriot Council, that he organized the big anti-lockdown protests in Lansing last Spring, that he took part in the January 6th insurrection at the US Capital and that he has been connected to several of those charged with the attempted kidnapping of Gov. Whitmer. 
  • Lastly, it was instructive to see that those protesting for the Holland Restaurant owner were not wearing masks, despite the fact that it is being reported that there is another surge in COVID cases with the past week.

The Devil is in the Details 3/212021: Still no transparency with an AmplifyGR project and a new naming of public spaces policy opens the door to the rich getting their names everywhere

March 22, 2021

This is our latest installment of The Devil is in the Details, which takes a critical look at Grand Rapids politics and policies, based primarily on the public record, such as committee agendas and minutes.

There are 2 issues we want to focus on in this installment of The Devil is in the Details, with the first one being the ongoing lack of transparency around the 1601 Madison SE project that is being spearheaded by AmplifyGR. 

As we mentioned in the last installment of this post, AmplifyGR has been pushing this development project since last November, but has failed to identify which company will be located at the 1601 Madison SE property, despite the fact that AmplifyGR has been asking for a $1,943,810 tax break through the Brownfield Development Authority.

On March 17, I sent an e-mail to 3rd Ward City Commissioner Lenear, asking if she knew what company would be located at the 1601 Madison SE property, but as of this posting I have yet to get a response.

In the Southtown Corridor Improvement Authority packet for March 17th, there was new information on the AmplifyGR project. AmplifyGR’s Director Jon Ippel introduced Andy Shannon from MCPC, representing the tenant for the property. Mr. Shannon provided background on the company. However, the document never provides the name of the company. Andy Shannon is the President of Sales for MCPC, which is a Data Protection Company, which leads us to believe that the company that will be occupying the 1601 Madison SE property will be a tech company.

Also worth noting about this project is that Ruben Ramos, who sits on the Southtown Corridor Authority Board, said he would be abstaining from voting on this project. Unfortunately, the document doesn’t provide a reason why Ramos would be abstaining, but that usually means there is a conflict of interest, which often means those abstaining have a financial interest in the project. 

The second issue we wanted to address in this addition of The Devil is in the Details, has to do with a new Parks & Recs policy proposal, which was included in the March 23rd Committee of the Whole packet, beginning on page 63.

The subject of the document listed states, Resolution approving City Commission Policy 1100-11; Naming and Renaming of Parks and Recreational Facilities. A more detailed explanation is referenced on page 66, which states:

These policies and procedures are intended to guide a) any individual or community group that is interested in having a park, building, or major feature named for a significant person, event, or place, b) any individual, group, or business that is interested in having their significant donation (park, building, major feature) named, c) the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board that will be making a recommendation to the department in regard to these requests, d) City Commission members that will be holding public hearings and approving the names of parks and buildings, and e) the Parks and Recreation Department Director and their staff.

Now, part of the documentation states that the naming or renaming of Parks and other public spaces in the City, “are not encouraged and should be entertained only after fully investigating and considering the potential impact of dropping the current name, of which will be included as part of the formal petition submitted.”

However, beginning on page 69, the document then begins to talk about naming and renaming public spaces for Major Gifts, meaning financial contributions. Here the document provides some details:

“When a gift is made to the Grand Rapids parks and recreation system that is of such magnitude and generosity that naming of such a new park or recreational facility in honor of or at the request of the benefactor, consideration to naming rights will be considered in addition to the other criteria outlined herein. 

As a guideline but not a limitation, the threshold for naming rights on parks and buildings would include one or preferably more of the following: 

  1. Deeding to the City of most, if not all, of the land on which the park or building to be named will be situated; 
  2. Payment of one-half or more of the capital costs of constructing a park or building to be named (depending on the availability of matching funds or grants); 
  3. Some long-term endowment for the repair and maintenance of a donated park or building; and 
  4. The provision of significant program costs for facilities that will serve parks and recreation program needs.

When reading this, the only thing that I could think of was that the City is willing to consider naming or renaming public spaces based on financial contributions, which almost always means from those who are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. Does this mean that we might see in the not too distant future a park or other public space being named after Richard & Helen DeVos? It certainly seems possible, since on page 69 it references naming right for Benefactors – members of the Capitalist Class, and corporations, associations, and other legally created entities making a major gift. 

Of course, this whole trend it rooted in the fact that government bodies have been adopting austerity measures, which are the hallmark of Neoliberalism. Austerity measures include the transfer of public money to the private sector, privatization of formerly public services and deregulation. 

With this new Naming and Renaming of public spaces policy, it opens the door for rich people and corporations to buy naming rights, which would not only be insulting to the public, it would also be driven by the ongoing war that Grand Rapids Power Structure has been waging in this community. This war is being directed at the most marginalized in our community, with concrete material consequences, but it’s also a war being waged against historical memory and forgetting. The more our public spaces are named after those with financial and political power, the more likely we become vulnerable to a sanitized narrative about those who have been exploiting this city for decades. 

How is it that we allow groups like Grand Action 2.0 to get away with the shit they do?

March 21, 2021

There are many definitions of the term stakeholder, but most often, when used by those in positions of power it usually means, “denoting a type of organization or system in which all the members or participants are seen as having an interest in its success.”

The organization known as Grand Action 2.0, recently published their plans/wish list for further development in downtown Grand Rapids, development that is primarily about attracting tourists to the area. In fact, the document is referred to as Venue & Attraction Development for Grand Rapids.

On the last page of this document, there is a listing of all the Interviewed Stakeholders. If we are using the working definition of stakeholder listed above, those included in the Grand Action 2.0 document are almost all groups that would have an interest in the success of the development plan.

What follows is a list of the 57 stakeholders that were interviewed, with a hyperlink included for those who many not be familiar with the entity. However, in most cases the hyperlink takes you to the leadership or Board of Directors of the entity listed, so you can see how in most cases there is a small sector of the community, specifically representing the Grand Rapids Power Structure, which dictate do much of what happens not only in downtown Grand Rapids, but throughout the city.

After that, we want to organize the 57 entities under the following groups: DeVos family run, other entities that make up the Grand Rapids Power Structure, entities with DeVos family representation on its board of directors, businesses that would profit from the Grand Action 2.0 development plans, government entities, stakeholders that were included because of their tourist appeal, and stakeholders that were included because they represent the optics of community.

AHC Hospitality https://www.ahchospitality.com/properties 

Amway https://www.amwayglobal.com/ 

ASM Global https://asmglobal.com/p/our-story

Bluewater Audio & Video https://bluewaterav.com/

Brigham Consulting https://www.brighamconsulting.com/  

City of Grand Rapids https://www.grandrapidsmi.gov/Home 

Colliers https://www.colliers.com/en/about#56bf90ae-53a7-4c31-b4e4-57fc4c0298a4 (Global Real Estate Company)

CWD Real Estate https://www.cwdrealestate.com/ 

DGRI https://downtowngr.org/about/dgri

Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation  https://www.dbdvfoundation.org/ 

DP Fox Ventures https://www.dpfox.com/

Experience Grand Rapids https://www.experiencegr.com/contact-staff/board-of-directors/

Fifth Third Bank https://www.53.com/content/fifth-third/en.html

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park https://www.meijergardens.org/storage/docs/21-024_Board_of_Directors_Web_Update.pdf 

Frey Foundation https://freyfdn.org/founders-and-trustees/

Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority https://www.grr.org/airport-board 

GR Community Foundation https://www.grfoundation.org/about/trustees-committees 

GR Mobile https://www.grandrapidsmi.gov/Government/Boards-and-Commissions/Mobile-GR-Commission

Grand Action https://www.grandaction.org/who-we-are 

Grand Action 2.0 Executive Committee https://www.grandaction.org/who-we-are

Grand Rapids Ballet https://grballet.com/about/board-directors/

Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce https://www.grandrapids.org/your-chamber/board-of-directors/

Grand Rapids Community College https://www.grcc.edu/about-grcc/leadership-administration/board-trustees

Grand Rapids FC https://grandrapidsfc.com/

Grand Rapids Next Gen Advisory Board https://www.grandrapidsmi.gov/Government/Boards-and-Commissions/The-Mayors-Next-Gen-Advisory-Board

Grand Rapids Opera https://www.operagr.org/board-of-trustees/

Grand Rapids Symphony https://www.grsymphony.org/board

Grand Rapids Urban League https://www.grurbanleague.org/board-of-directors

Grand Rapids Whitewater https://grandrapidswhitewater.org/funding/

Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority https://www.vanandelarena.com/p/about/about-caa

Grand Valley State University https://www.gvsu.edu/boardoftrustees/

Jandernoa Foundation https://www.open990.org/org/383083625/jandernoa-foundation/

John Ball Zoo https://www.jbzoo.org/about/board

Kent County https://www.accesskent.com/Departments/BOC/members.htm

Kent County Hotel Advisory Board https://www.kentcountyhospitality.org/hotel-advisory-board/

Keystone Fund https://keystonefund.org/revenue-source/

Live Nation Michigan https://www.livenationentertainment.com/leadership/

Major League Lacrosse https://majorleaguelacrosse.com/news/2019/2/25/about-mll.aspx

Michigan Travel Commission  https://www.michigan.org/board-members#asset-aid-19976

Midwest United https://www.midwestunitedfc.com/boardofdirectors

Northland United Soccer Club https://northlandunited.org/current-board-members/

NWSL https://www.nwslsoccer.com/leadership-team

Orion Construction http://orionbuilt.com/about-us

Osteria Rossa http://osteriarossa.com/about/

Pioneer Construction https://www.pioneerinc.com/our-team

Premier Productions https://www.premierproductions.com/about

Progressive AE https://www.progressiveae.com/overview/people/

Rockford Construction https://rockfordconstruction.com/team?drawer%5B0%5D=department-corporate

SJC Alliance https://www.scjalliance.com/culture/our-team/

Steelcase Foundation https://www.steelcasefoundation.org/staff-and-trustees/

Terryberry https://www.terryberry.com/about-us/

The Right Place https://www.rightplace.org/about-us/board-of-directors

United Methodist Community House http://www.umchousegr.org/about-us/our-board/

Van Andel Enterprises https://www.linkedin.com/company/va-enterprises-llc

Van Andel Institute https://www.vai.org/leadership/trustees/

Wege Foundation https://wegefoundation.com/trustees/

West Michigan Sports Commission https://www.westmisports.com/board

Western Michigan Hispanic Chamber https://westmihcc.org/board-of-directors/

Who these Stakeholders really represent

DeVos Family run entities – AHC Hospitality, Amway, Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, DP Fox Ventures and CWD Real Estate (partial ownership).

Other Grand Rapids Power Structure Stakeholders – CWD Real Estate, DGRI, Experience Grand Rapids, Frey Foundation, GR Community Foundation, Grand Action, Grand Action 2.0 Executive Committee, Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority, Grand Valley State University, Jandernoa Foundation, Orion Construction, Pioneer Construction, Progressive AE, Rockford Construction, Steelcase Foundation, The Right Place, Van Andel Enterprises, Van Andel Institute, Wege Foundation and the Western Michigan Hispanic Chamber. 

Stakeholders with DeVos Board Representation – DGRI, Experience Grand Rapids, Grand Action, Grand Action 2.0 Executive Committee, Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Grand Rapids Community College (funding), Grand Rapids Symphony, Grand Rapids Whitewater (funding), Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority, Grand Valley State University, Kent County Hotel Advisory Board, The Right Place, West Michigan Sports Commission and the Western Michigan Hispanic Chamber.

Businesses that would likely profit from the Grand Action 2.0 development plans –  AHC Hospitality, Bluewater Audio & Video, Colliers, CWD Real Estate, Orion Construction, Pioneer Construction, Progressive AE, and Rockford Construction.

Government entities – City of Grand Rapids, GR Mobile, Grand Rapids Next Gen Advisory Board, Kent County, and Michigan Travel Commission.

Stakeholders with tourist and venue appeal – Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids Opera, Grand Rapids Symphony, Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority, and John Ball Zoo.

Stakeholders that are community-based – Grand Rapids Urban League and United Methodist Community House.

The Rich get Richer and everyone else pays for it

In a March 10th WOODTV8 story, it was reported that the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) approved steps to create a new oversight group for the Grand River “development plans.” While the Grand River development plans are not the same as the Grand Action 2.0 Venue & Attraction Development for Grand Rapids document, these projects overlap and involved the same stakeholders, ie, representatives of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. 

In the WOODTV8 story, one DDA board member, Greg McNeilly, had reservations about having “ too many oversight groups over time.” McNeilly, who represents the DeVos owned Windquest Group at the DDA meetings, is also the President of the Michigan Freedom Fund. It’s not surprising that McNeilly, who has been a DeVos operative for years, would verbalize his objection to too much oversight, but he really shouldn’t worry about this, since it is likely that whatever oversight group is put in place, will represent the DeVos and other Grand Rapids Power Structure member interests quite well.

Lastly, as thousands of families in Grand Rapids continue to face eviction, food insecurity and unemployment, the Grand Action 2.0 plans will continue to move forward without a hitch. In fact, those behind the Grand Action 2.0 plans, along with the stakeholders involved in the project, are delighted that so many people are busy just surviving, since that means they are not pissed off and organized against the Grand Action 2.0 plans to use public money to development more of the downtown area, which will lead to expanding the wealth of the members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. If those who were struggling to survive knew what those in power were up to, it might look a whole lot like what happened on May 30th last year, when the police could not control the thousands of people who mobilized with righteous indignation against police repression and the concentrated wealth that exists within the Capitalist Class in the downtown area. The question for groups doing work outside of the non-profit industrial complex is, “how can we mobilize the disenfranchised to bring down the Grand Rapids Power Structure?

GRIID Class on US Social Movements – Part VIII: Building a Framework for Social Movements and Radical Imagination

March 18, 2021

In the 8th, and last, week of the class on US social movements, we discussed an article by Steve Darcy, which you can find here. 

Darcy’s article has to do with the importance of creating autonomous and independent social organizations/structures that do not rely in the existing Capitalist structures in business, government and the non-profit sector, entities that he identifies as Social Movement Organizations, Class Conflict Organizations and Grassroots-Democratic Organizations. 

In addition, Darcy explores what he describes as a two-pronged strategic framework – the resistance phase and the transition phase. The resistance phase is where we actively work to dismantled systems of power and oppression, using a whole array of tactics in that work. The transition phase is where we work to build alternative structures and a capacity to building the kind of community and society we want to see.

Participants were very engaged with the content from Darcy’s article and we began to discuss what this might look like in a variety of movement-based work.

The second part of week 8 was spent responding to four questions that were meant to engage people around some of the overarching themes raised in the first 7 weeks.

What have you learned about systems of power and oppression in US History, and how they have they have responded – pushed back, against social movements. Here, people discussed the Abolitionist Movement, the larger Black Freedom Struggle and the Labor Movement. Participants addressed how systems of power are always attempting to co-opt movements, present mild reforms – with the hope that it will weaken movements, direct suppression of movements and how systems of power always want to dictate the narrative around this history.

What have you learned about Social Movements, specifically about tactics and strategies that you may not have known before, and how have those tactics and strategies threaten systems of power? One participant made it clear, using the example of labor conflicts that it seems that unless there is significant confrontation, movements will not be effective. Another participant spoke to how the Abolitionist movement used direct action tactics like uprising, killing plantation owners and creating the Underground Railroad, all of which were tactics that used force and were determined by society to be illegal. 

Whatever gains that have been made in the US, how have they come about? Here we discussed Zinn’s analysis that whatever gains we have made, they have come about because of our collective ability to organize and struggle to make the changes we want. Whatever gains we have made was the direct result of movements, never gifts from those in power and never as a result of elections. One of the participants pointed out that the 8 hour work day, worker benefits, etc, were the result of the Labor Movement, not because bosses or owners gifted those things to us.

How does our collective investigation into the history of social movements influence our understanding/participation in current movements? We ran out of time before getting to the fourth question, but there was some discussion about existing movements in the area and ways to get involved. 

As always, facilitating these kinds of conversations is always engaging, always instructive and it is always affirming to watch and listen to people who are grappling with this history and how it impacts their understanding of what is happening in the present. Thank you all for your commitment to this class, your sharing and your insights!